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Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (Switch) artwork

Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (Switch) review


Like many games, Darksiders has a screen showing various stats, such as distance walked or enemies killed or... gallons of blood spilled. That should tell you everything you need to know about its aesthetic design. Darksiders isn't just Zelda in a realistic setting; it downright revels in being X-TREME, at least from the perspective of a 12 year old from the 90s. The overdesigned swords. The huge, hulking mass of a main character ripping enemies in half. The laughably serious dialogue, with the main character attempting to be perpetually grim and cool with every sentence. The demons with their scaly skin, the angels made out of steel. It's like the whole thing was designed by Rob Liefeld (if you don't get that reference, consider yourself lucky).

But you have to admire their persistence in creating such a world that is unceasingly, consistently X-TREME. After a while, it just becomes natural. To be fair, it's not like I care about videogames as art or anything like that, so frankly there's nothing wrong with a title that decides to go over the top. If you come in expecting it to be ridiculous, you'll be fine. And I suppose it fits the plot, after all. It seems the apocalypse is here, so naturally War, one of the Four Horsemen, arrives on Earth. Only one problem: this is a completely unscheduled apocalypse, and someone's got to pay for the bureaucratic snafu that accidentally caused the extinction of mankind. So everyone chooses War as the scapegoat. But rather than submit to whatever punishment is appropriate for genocide, he offers instead to find the real culprit, y'know, like OJ.

And the way to do this, apparently, is to play an Ocarina of Time inspired game, just more X-TREME. Instead of a peaceful meadow, you run around in the post-apocalyptic streets of a now-dead city. Instead of a boomerang, you have a spinning blade. Instead of a friendly fairy, you have a sarcastic, sadistic demon. Instead of collecting rupees, you collect souls. And naturally, the approach to uncovering the conspiracy behind this extinction is to go to 4 different temples and collect the four McGuffins needed to open the final dungeon. Except instead of medallions or crystals, the four trinkets are the still-beating hearts of demons that you rip out of their chests, Mola Ram style (now THAT reference is worth knowing). So X-TREME!

OK, fine, I'll stop mocking the style.

Like Zelda, there's a plethora of items to collect, from heart and magic containers (well, Wrath containers) to item abilities to collectible trinkets. Some require simple puzzle solving, some require paying attention to your surroundings and finding the hidden path, some require backtracking once you obtain new abilities. There's a few large, open maps that require some sort of subquest to solve and get to the next area, and large, sprawling "temples" with their own maps and generally an item you can obtain to help you solve new puzzles. Boss fights have a pattern, often requiring the new item you just got. All very Zeldaesque.

Good Zelda? Well, adequate Zelda. There's something of a central hub and then four regions that lead to four "temples" that sprawl out from said hub. By the time you finish the first temple, you realize it's A) really huge compared to Zelda temples, and B) actually pretty well designed. There's a huge sense of space, with many different major rooms that you'll crisscross through, and simply looking at the map will not help you find a clear, obvious path forward. I mean, it is linear, but the path forward winds around so much, and the architecture is grand enough, that you don't notice it. It's great! Not all the temples are like that (I honestly didn't even realize I was in the third one for quite a while), but overall this part of the game feels fun to play, and slowly uncovering each temple is as satisfying as one might hope.

The overworld also has its moments. Unlike Zelda, its primary purpose is just to shuffle you from one area to the next, rather than be interesting to explore in the first place. Thus, you might see a large area that has several combat challenges that you need to complete in order to move on to the next area. Or you have major setpieces, where you must fly on top of a dragon and shoot down angels or work with a demonic Scottish blacksmith to charge through a horde of angels or whatever. If you like actiony setpieces, these will do just fine. But it's clear that the purpose of the overworld is to be linear rather than something worthwhile to explore on your own. As an example, the first 10% of the game or so is getting you to a central hub area, but then getting to the new region once you finish a temple requires nothing more than opening a new door in that central hub. No more backtracking, no more reason to go back to the previous areas. The game is pushing you always in one direction.

But remember how I said that some of the items and collectible trinkets require backtracking? That's where Darksiders fails with the Zelda setting. By having the narrative constantly push you forward (not only in objective but also in new locations), there's less incentive to go backwards. Compare that to Zelda or Metroid in which the new objectives occasionally require returning to old, familiar areas to give you an incentive to re-explore them. It also doesn't help that the post-apocalyptic wasteland makes it harder for locations to stand out. You know immediately the difference between Death Mountain and Hyrule Field and Lake Hylia and Gerudo Desert because the names remind you of what you saw (deserts or mountains or whatever) and because they are all so varied in color and scope. The Choking Grounds? Scalding Gallows? Yes, there are different locations, and they can correspond to different themes, but the grimdark grayness over everything means they don't stand out, and it's sometimes hard to remember one burnt out urban wasteland from the next. So while Zelda encourages exploration in the design, Darksiders tries to include it but fails in designing the game around it.

Meanwhile, the one area of the game that isn't aping Zelda (besides the setting) is the combat. There's not much in the way of extra attack items (you can eventually get two different weapons - a scythe and a gun - as well as some other items possibly for combat like the aforementioned blade-boomerang), but instead there's an emphasis on learning combos and fighter-esque moves (which you have to purchase from a demon). Of course, in order to properly showcase these moves, it means your super-cool X-TRE... (sorry!), uh impressive looking sword actually does pitiful damage. So a bit of a disconnect between the game proper and the setting, but it's somewhat forgivable. Unfortunately, there's just so many moves, and it's not clear what is more powerful than the others when you have to do so much damage just to kill anything, and the design of the game makes practically everything look overpowered so you can't judge based on the visuals. So it's not 100% forgivable. In the end, I mostly just did basic stuff anyway because I'm lazy and untalented, and that got me through the game just fine. Just use your wrath-consuming super moves at the proper time, and you're good to go.

These flaws - the disconnect in combat between actual and perceived damage and the inconsistent commitment to exploration - prevent Darksiders from being a great game. But its strengths - solid level design and fluid combat if you ignore that disconnect - still means its a good one. And despite poking fun at the setting, it still can be charming if you don't take it too seriously. Despite its accolades, not too many games tried to clearly ape Ocarina of Time, so getting to experience an over-the-top and flawed-but-still-solid dark fantasy version of it is still worth it. Perhaps even, dare I say it, X-TREME!-ly appreciated.

mariner's avatar
Featured community review by mariner (November 25, 2019)

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